If you are a recreational soccer player, you might arrive at a game after eating a large meal and find you're too full to run well during a 90-minute outdoor contest or a 48-minute indoor one. You also might rush to the game without having eaten all day. It's important to have sufficient glycogen in your muscles to sprint, jump and kick, rather than trying to run on either an empty fuel tank or a too-full stomach.
Sports nutrition texts, including “Nutrition” by Stanford University professor Paul Insel, recommend that endurance sports athletes, such as soccer players, eat a diet consisting of 60 percent or more in carbohydrates. This provides fuel for leg muscles, especially the heavily used quadriceps. Good sources of carbs are rice, pasta, whole-grain bread, oatmeal, breakfast cereal and fresh or dried fruit, according to registered dietitian Diogo Ferreira, who collaborates with the Portuguese team Benfica. These foods have a low to moderate level of fiber, and help maintain stable blood sugar levels, he adds.
Allow three or ideally four hours to digest a meal before a soccer game or hard practice, write sports nutritionist Nancy Clark and Gloria Averbuch, marketing director for the Sky Blue pro women’s team, in “Food Guide for Soccer: Tips and Recipes from the Pros.” If kickoff is at 8 p.m., complete a substantial meal between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. Have essentially a second lunch, such as a sandwich, a mug of soup or peanut butter on crackers. Allow two to three hours to digest a smaller meal, one to two hours for a blended or liquid meal and less than an hour for a small snack.
Add protein to your diet, consuming lean meats such as chicken and turkey at lunchtime on game days, dietitian Ferreira recommends. Add low-fat milk, yogurt or a fruit shake for additional protein and calcium. Many female soccer players need to take iron, as French international player Sonia Bompastor of the Washington Freedom states in “Food Guide for Soccer.”
Avoid fatty foods, such as fried eggs, hamburgers, french fries and sausage before a game, since these can upset your stomach. The one exception could be peanut butter, which you may be able to tolerate far better than other foods with fat, especially if you spread it on a slice of whole-grain bread, nutritionist Ferreira writes.
Sports nutritionist Clark advocates getting your pre-game nourishment from “real” foods, as opposed to gels, power bars, protein drinks, sports drinks and powders. She and marketing director Averbuch advocate assembling a good diet from whole foods in their original form.
If you want to eat what the pros eat, “Food Guide for Soccer” recommends 50 recipes from players in Women’s Professional Soccer. These include Pasta with Chicken from all-time international caps leader Kristine Lilly, Avocado Salad from Brandi Chastain, Date Bars from Abby Wambach and Game Day Pancakes from Karina LeBlanc of Canada. Nicole Barnhart, the FC Gold Pride goalkeeper, has a well-balanced meal three to four hours before the game, and bananas or apples with peanut butter in the locker room before kickoff.